Ask Caitilin: How Do You Plan Your Year?

 

Question:

How do you plan out a year when you are pulling it together yourself?

Answer:

I can’t tell you how YOU will do it, but I can tell you how I have done it. It’s actually not very daunting at all, and a lot of fun, once you get over your initial feelings of insecurity about not doing right by your children. So bearing that in mind, here’s what I do.

First, I decide what subjects we will be covering this year. In any given year, the following are all included in some form.

*Math–math is a non-negotiable necessity for us every year. There are multitudes of math programs to choose from; we have variously used Saxon Math, Singapore Math, and Art of Problem Solving in our homeschool to date.

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*Spelling–I have some natural spellers and some not-so-natural spellers, so this remains in our lineup until eighth grade. Our program of choice is a public school text series called Everyday Spelling, but there are many on the market. If your child is born to spell, you may easily dispense with this subject. On the other hand, if your child has serious struggles such as dyslexia or another learning disability, you may need a more serious phonics and spelling program.

*English–I tend to lump together under this heading things that some like to separate out. But however you like to think of it, whether as “English” or “language arts,” in this subject I include grammar, writing, literature, phonics, and reading aloud. I have a background in English and literature, so am comfortable choosing and mixing/matching materials for this area. In the early years, phonics and reading aloud are obviously the focal points of our English studies. Once reading is firmly established, we move on, giving grammar, literature, and writing more attention. I do like, though, to have my children continue to practice reading aloud to me at least a couple of times a week through the elementary school years to maintain fluency and a pleasant reading style and speed.

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*History–We study some aspect of history each year, beginning in first grade. I try to follow a mostly chronological, cyclical approach to history, beginning in earliest times and moving up to the present day. In some years I have assembled my own materials and written my own program; however in most years I have used materials marketed to homeschoolers such as Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World. In middle school, I have tended to focus more on American history, but in high school we return once more to the cycle of history. History often includes geography studies, or in some years geography may have a subject slot of its own. In either case, it has been very helpful for my students to have a strong grasp of the physical and political layout of the world.

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*Science–I have gone back and forth in my own mind over the years as to what is the best way to approach science in the elementary years. I have concluded that for us, the most beneficial approach is simply to take a large scale topic, such as life science, space, or geology, and check out books from the library in various aspects of that large topic, read them, and do written narrations of the material. This is not because there’s a dearth of material written as more “official” science curricula–indeed, there’s a ton!–but because the longer I am at this home education project, the more strongly I feel that many of these programs rely on busywork, both in their experiments and in their evaluatory materials. I don’t have the time, patience, or inclination for busywork of any type, and still less in an area which is so inherently interesting that it ought to pique the students’ interest. But as we move into middle school, the materials we use have become more official; in high school, I am outsourcing science, as I cannot provide the level of instruction and lab experiences I want for my children.

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I also plan out our religious instruction. However this is an area I feel is best left to the parents’ discretion, and is basically none of my business. ;)

Now that I have gotten all of the subjects worked out, I need to choose materials for those subjects. The first thing I look at is, “What has worked well for us this year?” I am a big believer in refraining from jumping on a curriculum bandwagon just because it’s new, beautiful, and shiny, so if a program is working well for us, I’m unlikely to drop it to try something else. Conversely, if something just didn’t get done, or didn’t work as I had hoped, I go looking for its replacement. What materials are available and why I have chosen the ones I have is a different post for another day.

Having settled on materials, I now need a plan and yearly schedule. The yearly schedule helps to dictate the plan like this: I decide how many chunks I will break the year into (this is the schedule)–the last several it’s been six–then I look at each book, or set of books, and work out how much each chunk should cover (this is the plan). I have chosen six chunks because it allows us to school for six weeks, take a week off, and start over. Having fewer but smaller breaks has been good for our homeschool: we forget less, and we can power through some tough weeks on the strength of the upcoming break. However, there are other good ways to divvy up the year, such as by quarters and semesters, or even schooling all year long, taking breaks as they are needed. I like the six six-week periods because an average public school year is about 36 weeks long, so by planning on that number of weeks, I can be fairly sure we are doing a reasonable amount of work each year.

The final thing to consider when planning the year is whether Mom has her own mental and emotional “house in order” for the new school year. For some of us, this is the year’s supply of chocolate; for others, it is planned outings with a friend or homeschooling group; for still others, it’s a daily designated time for prayer, mediation, or exercise. The common thread here is that these are the elements required for Mom to maintain her sanity. Make sure you have these, whatever they are for you, lined up and available before you begin. Homeschooling can be isolating and difficult. Provide yourself with the resources to strengthen you and keep you up to the task.

With your subjects chosen, your materials picked out, your plan and schedule in place, and your support system laid down, you are ready to begin the new adventure of a new school year. Each homeschool year is a bit like Star Trek: we all have to “boldly go where no one has gone before!”

 

Caitcaitlin_fionailin Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom she has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

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In the Beginning

by Briana Elizabeth

There’s always chaos in the beginning. The universe, Genesis says, was formed out of chaos. It’s no different with homeschooling. So, if you’ve decided to homeschool, I congratulate you on your life changing decision. It is still a brave and wild thing to do, and, because I want you to succeed, I’m going to lay some tough love on you.

First, I will tell you that I was the most disorganized person ever, and if you had told someone twenty-two years ago that I would have seven children and be organized, they would have split their face in half from laughing so hard. I was also the least patient, and cared not one whit about making a home, let alone homeschooling. So, I’m going to begin with some bold truths as I’ve learned some hard lessons, and I want to save you that pain.

Homeschooling will exacerbate your family’s problems. It’s like a magnifying glass, and you need to expect this, so that you know it’s not the just the decision to homeschool that’s made you all feel the pressure of close quarters. You need to know this upfront and really look at your family life and parenting style truthfully. If you are a yeller, there will be even more yelling. If your house is disorganized, you will become even more disorganized. If you lack habits of timeliness, then you will fall behind and be late even more. If dinner time comes and every day you are staring into the fridge, wondering what you will feed the family, that will now happen with every meal, because now you will have them all home for every meal.

The good news is that the good habits and virtues will also be brought to the forefront, but since you have all of that under control, I’m just going to give you the pointers I wished I was given those many years ago.

 The first rule of homeschooling in our house is “Begin with the End in Mind.” Now, that can mean planning, as you start with what you want your child to achieve by their 12th grade year and work yourself backwards with a schedule, or it can simply be a way to make sure that you have controlled what you can control during the day so that your day ends in peace, thus promoting household harmony and good feelings about homeschooling. You are going to have to do this school thing day after day, year after year (perhaps), and when you start going to bed hating the fact that you have to get up the next morning and teach your children again it will be impossible to maintain any sort of peace.

Look, God took chaos and ordered the universe. We are not God, and our universes are much smaller, but we can order our homes, especially with His help. If I, the most disorganized (yes, ask my mother) yeller can learn to keep a home that is reasonably clean and ordered with some ‘pretty’ thrown in for good measure; if I can learn to bridle my tongue, I know that God works miracles and can do the same for you. But, a warning, things may look worse before they get better.

So what can you do to manage the daily chaos that will happen when your family is together most hours of the day, most days of the year?

Like all famous generals, you need to have a plan.

Homeschool is about order and wonder. Without order, there can be no wonder. That is not my idea, it’s a very old idea, but it’s a very good one so I’m bringing it out and dusting it off.

The biggest piece of wisdom to share with you about the ordering of your homeschool is that teaching is a full-time job. Meaning, you can’t stop your teaching to go dust the living room. You will then pick up a basket of laundry and end up on the second floor, putting it all away, and then you will find another thing that has to be done and there will be no schooling done the rest of the day. So, rule # 1 is that during school time, no chores get done. Obviously, if you have one child in kindergarten, your hours of schooling will not be like mine, which run from about eight-thirty in the morning until about four in the afternoon with a lunch break.  So, if you adopt that rule, you can automatically see how everything needs to shift to accommodate the time you are schooling.

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Beginning with the end in mind, you need to get the house under control so that you are just maintaining order once school is done for the day. If your kids are old enough to help and aren’t helping, this is the time for them to learn how. Their future mates will thank you for these habits!

If you have children that are old enough to fold laundry, then by all means, show them how. Fifteen minutes of folding before school starts in the morning is a lot of work done. If another is old enough to learn how to use the washer, again, by all means, show him how. They are not incapable, and you underestimate their ability if you don’t give them the privilege of helping the family in such a fruitful way.

Now is also the time to teach them how to load and unload the dishwasher. In our house, the dishwasher is run three times a day and that job cannot go to me all the time or no teaching would get done.

It is a grace and a blessing to teach your children to serve each other this way. Charity begins in the home. The bonus is that when they leave your house for college, they will know how to do their own laundry. Call it home economics and give them credit for it, even.

Now is also the time to wrangle the household schedule. I’m not talking about who has karate or soccer or piano, I’m talking about how you order your day. Don’t worry, I didn’t have a schedule, either, when I started, but this is easy to accomplish.

I start out the night before by making sure my coffee maker is ready in the morning, so that all I have to do is hit the button and go back to bed while it brews. If you have a timer on yours, bonus! Really, the day just is nicer when you aren’t waking up to have to clean the coffee pot, and work around a huge sink full of dishes.

When I get up to get some coffee, I stop at the washer and throw in a load. My reward for this first task is coffee.

As I sit and drink my coffee, I look over my planner and see what’s to be done that day. I also check my menu and before I even make breakfast for everyone, I make sure I have everything I need for dinner. Did you get a little scared there? Don’t, this is the easiest part, but the part that matters the most in the ordering of your day.

My second golden rule of homeschooling is to make sure you know what is for dinner by 10:00 a.m. The application of that rule has saved me from more catastrophes than I would want to list. How do I do that on a daily basis? I make a weekly menu with the weekly sales flyer in hand, and I shop by my menu. That way everything I need is in the house, because another “time suck” is running to the store to get last minute items. That happens occasionally, we’re human after all, but I cut the chances of that happening with a menu.

 So, drink coffee, look over the day, and start dinner. That sounds crazy, but think of this: If you were leaving the house at 8:00 a.m., and would be walking back in the house at 6:00 p.m., what would be the first question from everyone in the house when you got home? “What’s for dinner?”  And you’d learn quickly that you had to have a plan for dinner for when you got home. This is the same. The kids are going to wake up, the day is going to start, school will be rolling,  and before you know it, school will be over and you will be tired. The kids will want to go off and play, and you will not want to haul yourself to the store or think about what you are going to make. This way, you finish school, you roll right into dinner, and everything is under control. Chaos is kept at bay. Then dishes get done, people relax, and you’re ending your day on a peaceful note, which makes your getting up and doing it all over not such a grueling task.

 Which brings us to my third rule of homeschooling: You must read their books. You can skate by a year or two when they’re young, but the snowball effect will start and by the time they hit high school and if you haven’t read one book on their list (begin with the end in mind) you will hardly be able to catch up with them. How do you have a conversation about a book if the book hasn’t been read by both parties? Yes, there are all kinds of shortcuts around this, curricula made so you don’t have to read them, but you didn’t get into homeschooling to shortcut, did you? Look, this is the education of your children, and these books that they will be reading will shape them. They can fill out questions and write paragraphs or papers about them, but the real learning is when two people discuss the book. Not only will the book become a treasure to them, but sharing it will build your relationship. And that is priceless. Add to that when the siblings read the same books and say, “Oh, wait until ninth grade and you read The Once and Future King!” That stuff is magic. The conversations that happen after a few children have read the stories, and the anticipation of joining the familial club of those who have read the story. Truly, it is the magic of family and life and of people who love each other. So, at the least, stay a full year ahead of them so it gives you time to ponder the books and the ideas contained within. When you connect ideas and authors, you don’t leave their education to happenstance and formulas. They will get the best they possibly can from you if you do this one thing alone. That’s not to say it will all fall to pieces if they have to fill out questions on some books because there was a family crisis, but don’t let that become the norm.

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My final rule is to find friends and carve out some time for yourself and your mate. Take up a hobby. Make sure you take time to reconnect with your spouse. Homeschooling is a lot of sacrifice, and the payoff is far off. Your marriage and your self cannot be left to rot as martyrs to homeschooling. Education is about instilling a liturgy of life and a culture of learning that will hopefully be passed down through generations of your family. This is heady stuff. You can’t give what you don’t have, so the cultivation of your own life cannot be left as an afterthought. You also can’t place the weight of decompression from this on your mate. I mean, yes, by all means, they are a parent also, but you don’t want your spouses arrival home to nothing but a litany of offenses of the day and complaining. And you will complain because homeschooling is hard. Parental discipline and decisions are a shared responsibility, but your spouse who also has worked hard all day and dealt with disappointments doesn’t deserve to be the sole bearer of your venting just because they are also parents. This is where friendships with other homeschooling parents are so valuable. It may take time to find them, and now a days we sometimes find these friendships online, but don’t stop seeking them out. And the friendships online can be just as, or even more valuable. You need them, and they need you.

You can do this, really. There are tons of us out there doing this now, in all walks of life. If I can, you can. I remember when I was going to take the test for my driver’s license, and I was terrified, my mother said to me, “There are terrible drivers out there. If they can get their license, so can you.” Truly, if I can do this, so can you, so take heart, adjust the sails, and start forth on this incredible, life changing, utterly fulfilling journey.

Briana Elizabeth is a wife, mother to seven children ages 23 to 7, and caretaker of one Amazon parrot, two dogs, and two cats. When she’s not planning lessons or feeding people, she paints, knits, and writes. You can follow her blog at www.justamousehouse.blogspot.com

Creating an Electronic Home Binder

by Megan Danielletablet

I remember a couple of years ago, I watched this video on creating a home management binder.  I thought it was a great idea to have everything you needed in one place. Plus it was so cute.  If you know me at all, you know I love the cutesy things in life, but I do not have a cutesy or crafty bone in my body.  So whenever I see something cutesy, I decide I must. have. it.

Pros of having a home management binder:

  • Once it’s out of your head, you don’t have to remember it.  Much less stress.
  • Everything in one spot.
  • Cutesy!
  • Easy to organize.
  • Easy to change and adapt.

However, this method didn’t really last very long.  Knowing me, that’s not very surprising.  It was a pain to lug that huge binder everywhere. And when adding something like this to your life, it takes awhile for the correct habits to form.  You have to remember to check your binder often.  You have to look for the binder often. You have to remember to carry the binder with you. You can see why it didn’t work so well.

Fast forward several years and I got a super handy thing called a tablet.  Squee!!  Oh my heck, this thing was amazing.  It had a calendar, so I could immediately record important events and appointments.  It had a sticky-note-type-thing app so I could take notes and not lose them all over the house.  It had a homeschool planner app so I could record our lesson plans and attendance.  I could go on and on. This thing was amazing.

So when I discovered an ebook that promised to turn a tablet into a Home Management Binder, I knew I had to read it!  It’s called Paperless Organization by Mystie Winckler.  At only $3.99, it has been worth every single penny.  In this book, she teaches how to use free apps (on both the Android and iOS market) to help with all the organization of your home, school, work, life, etc.

I don’t use it exactly as she does.  A friend showed me this website, which teaches how to use Evernote as a task manager.  If one uses this method, one of the apps from Mystie’s book is unnecessary. So today, I’m going to talk about how I use Evernote as a Home Management binder and a to-do list.

So what is Evernote?  Simply put, Evernote is an electronic binder.  You can create “notes.”  Groups of notes are put together into “notebooks.”  Groups of notebooks go together into “stacks.”  It was easier for me to remember that it compared to a physical binder like this:

Stacks=binders

Notebooks=tabbed dividers

Notes=pieces of paper

Before I found Evernote, I’d come up with the idea of using a spiral notebook for some of our subjects.  Story of the World is an example.  I didn’t want our lesson plans to be so strict that I planned the entire year beforehand and we could never deviate, lest the plans become discombobulated.  No one likes discombobulation, even though it’s really fun to say.  But I couldn’t just fly by the seat of my pants with the SOTW Activity Guide.  There were too many craft items and books to gather before hand.  So in my spiral, I put the chapter title at the top of each page and went through the Activity Guide writing down all the craft supplies, books, and any other items I would need ahead of time.  Then when I browsed Pinterest or other blogs, if I saw a fun idea, I could write it on the correlating chapter page. I’d take a picture for you, but that notebook got lost.

So then, I had the brilliant idea of using a three ring binder.  I could put multiple subjects into the binder (Artistic Pursuits, SOTW, Elemental Science) and use it in the same way.  Then when I planned my homeschool week, I wouldn’t have to take out each book and go through the teacher’s guides, it would all be written down in that 3 ring binder.

I’d love to show you a picture of it, but alas, it is also lost.

Do you know what does not get lost?  That’s right, my tablet!  It’s practically attached at my hip.  I’ve been YouTubing and tweaking and YouTubing and tweaking all over to get my Evernote organized just the way I want.  I’ve had many people ask me how I do it, so here’s a video showing you how I use it.

I forgot to mention some of the benefits of the Web Clipper.  Pinterest just copies the URL and pairs it with a picture.  The Web Clipper actually saves a copy of the clipped item, even if a change was made to the clipped site.  So there will be no messed up links, no links that take you to spam, and the information will always stay in your Evernote even if the site is taken down.  Also, everything in Evernote is searchable, even the text from a clipped article.  So if you can’t remember exactly what the project was, you might be able to do a search for it and find it that way.

To use Evernote as a to-do list, The Secret Weapon (TSW) has a series of tags.  As you have projects come to you, you tag each note with the corresponding time frame of when you think you’ll actually get around to it. As you work through the projects, you change the note’s tag and move other projects up higher on your priority list.  To be honest, I haven’t experimented much with this system; I’ve been busy focusing on getting the binder side of Evernote set up and running.  But last week I did remember that I was in charge of part of our Relief Society Activity.  I used Evernote to come up with a list of everything that needed to be done and I spread that work out over the next few days.  As I thought of new ideas or when I completed tasks, I updated my Evernote so I always knew exactly where I stood.  The day of the activity, I was busy, but I was not stressed. I had done as much work ahead of time as I could, I did what needed to be finished (checking off my to do list as I went), and I brought everything I needed (also on a checklist).  That was the most pain-free project I have *ever* done.  Here’s a brief video clip of how I used Evernote for a task manager.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.  I’m not anywhere close to being the world’s tech savviest person, but I am a mean Googler and YouTuber.  For more detailed descriptions of how to use Evernote, please see The Secret Weapon and Paperless Organization.

Megan Danielle  is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck (girl, age 2).  She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting.  She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was 3 and they’ve been on this journey ever since.